Killer Fillers

 Nov 05, 2014

In the past three weeks, I have had two separate people in training who, on numerous occasions, said “to be honest” in front of what they were about to share. Both were completely unaware that they said it at all, let alone so frequently.

Another participant on a recent management course had a terrible habit of saying “I guess” before contributing something he was reasonably sure of.

The word “obviously” has crept into lots of people's language in the last few years and for one nervous person making an internal presentation; he said it so much that his General Manager, who was part of the audience, finally pulled him up on it and said, “[Name], it’s not that obvious.”

Most of the time, these are habitual throw-away lines or ‘filler’ words with no meaning to the person saying them, other than a way to keep speaking whilst thinking of what to say next without saying “umm.” The effect on a listener, say a customer, however, who hears it repeatedly, may not be so innocuous. They can be ‘killer’ fillers.

If you keep harping on about honesty, “to be honest,” the listener may start to think “This guy keeps telling me he’s honest. Does he have a problem with honesty?”

A similar issue occurs with the phrase “trust me” before making a remark or suggestion. “I was trusting you before but now that you've told me to…is there something else I should look into here?”

Saying “I guess…” in front of a contribution can simply be a ‘filler’ but some people use it as a way of getting their audience to like them for not being so forthright. Instead, it can undermine the confidence that the audience has in them.

If something is so “obvious” why bother saying it?

What can we do instead?

Firstly, for those who are using these ‘filler’ words for ‘thinking-time’; gain awareness of what you are doing. Ask friends to point it out or record yourself. Then, as you become more aware, either pause and take a breath before proceeding or get a number of ‘filler’ words to intersperse in your statements so it doesn’t sound so repetitive. Such words will usually be adverbs: actually, basically, essentially, evidently, obviously, of course, reasonably, simply, specifically, usually and maybe even a “you know?” every now and then is not too bad, provided we interchange it with the others.

Do I need to talk about the repetitive use of the word “like”? Of course not; we can, like, actually see that it is obviously, like, essentially overused. (Inflection upward at the end of that sentence ‘obviously’ intended.)

But on to a more serious note, what can those do, who are not using the phrases “to be honest” and “trust me” as fillers but rather as a way of substantiating what they are about to contribute?

The answer is, build your credibility in another way. Here are some examples.

“I realise this is hard to believe. I ended up learning this lesson the hard way when…”

“I read about this particular issue in the XYZ journal…”

“Having been here now for ten years, I've seen this issue come up a number of times and the best way that we have learned to deal with it…”

These are just a few suggestions; there are many more.

To get your credibility up front as quickly as possible, then influence through emotion or logic. It is a much better way than commanding a person to “trust you.” – Aristotle

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About the Author:

Tim Higgs  

Tim has been involved in the corporate training industry for over 15 years; seven of these have been as the Portfolio Manager and Senior Facilitator at New Horizons. Tim holds a Graduate Diploma (Psych/Couns), a masters’ degree in Cultural Psychology and a bachelor’s degree in Business, giving him a unique theoretical backdrop for understanding human performance in the workplace. This complements his actual experience of working within the corporate sector in sales and management positions and owning and running a small business. Having worked with individuals and groups in both clinical and business settings, Tim has a fantastic insight into human behaviour, motivation and the issue of human change.

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